Uncover the heritage of the Khmer kingdoms
On this journey we explore Cambodia’s fabled cultural heritage in depth, starting with the highlights of Phnom Penh, before we make a detour south to the archaeological sites of Tonle Bati and Angkor Borei which date back to the pre-angkorian kingdom of Funan.
On our way to Siem Reap we make a stopover in Kompong Thom and are introduced to the temple city of Sambor Prei Kuk, the capital of the kingdom of Chenla, which preceded the Khmer Empire of Angkor.
In Siem Reap, the gateway to the fabled temples of Angkor, we will have enough time to explore the main complexes in detail.
8 Days (7 Nights)
- Day 1 Arrive in Phnom Penh; city tour, including Royal Palace and National Museum
- Day 2 Visit the pre-angkorian sites of Tonle Bati and Angkor Borei
- Day 3 Transfer to Kompong Thom via the former capital of Udong and the sacred hill of Phnom Santuk
- Day 4 Ancient capital of Sambor Prei Kuk; transfer to Siem Reap
- Day 5 Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and other temples on the Small Circuit
- Day 6 Kbal Spean, Banteay Srei and Banteay Samre
- Day 7 Roluos group and temples of the Grand Circuit
- Day 8 Check out and transfer or start of your onward programme
Day 1: Arrive in Phnom Penh, where you are picked up by our tour guide and transferred to your hotel. Later we visit the spectacular Royal Palace complex, including Wat Preah Keo Morokat with the spectacular Silver Pagoda, decorated with a floor made up of 5,000 silver tiles, the National Museum which houses the world’s finest collection of sculptures from the Angkor period, Wat Phnom, the city’s landmark and the notorious Toul Sleng Genocide Museum.
Day 2: We leave Phnom Penh and travel south to Tonle Bati, where we visit the 12th century laterite temple of Ta Prohm. We continue to Takeo from where we take a private speed boat along the ancient canal networks to the pre-angkorian sites of Angkor Borei and Phnom Da. On the way we catch a glimpse of the rural life in the area and enjoy the stunning views of the countryside. After lunch back in Takeo we head to Phnom Chiso, a hilltop temple from the angkorian era. We return to Phnom Penh, where we arrive towards the evening.
Day 3: We leave early today to explore some of the places of interest on our way to Kompong Thom. We drive along the Tonle Sap river to Udong, once Cambodia’s capital. There are a number of stupas on the top of nearby Phnom Udong, where former kings and queens are buried. We enjoy the magnificent views over the plains below as our guide provides us with information about the historical and cultural significance of this sacred hill, before we continue to Kompong Thom, where we climb the sacred hill of Phnom Santuk. There are over 800 steps to the top which is dotted with a number of pagodas, shrines and reclining Buddhas. Back at the bottom of the hill we visit Santuk Silk Farm and learn more about silk production in Cambodia, from silkworm breeding to weaving fine garments, before we continue to Kompong Thom, where we stay for the night.
Day 4: On our way to Siem Reap we make a detour to the forest temples of Sambor Prei Kuk, the pre-angkorian capital of the kingdom of Chenla, then known as Isanapura. We explore the three main temples, Prasat Tao or Lion Temple, Prasat Sambor, the main temple group, and Prasat Yeay Peau, perhaps the most atmospheric structure. After our picnic lunch in the forest we continue to Siem Reap, where we arrive in the late afternoon.
Day 5: Today we start our exploration of the temples of Angkor. We begin with a visit to the ancient walled city of Angkor Thom which also houses the Bayon with its mysterious four-faced towers, the royal palace and the terraces of the Elephants and the Leper King. In the afternoon we explore Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious building and national symbol of Cambodia. With its perfect layout and unsurpassed bas-reliefs that depict tales from Hindu mythology, Angkor Wat is considered the masterpiece of Khmer architecture. After lunch we visit the Ta Prohm which has been left to the forces of nature by archaeologists as it was rediscovered, many parts of its structure being embraced by the roots of gigantic trees, giving the ruin a special atmosphere, as well other structures on the Small and Grand Circuit. In the evening we witness the scenic sunset over one of the temples.
Day 6: Early in the morning we head to the temple mountain of Pre Rup, before driving further north to Kbal Spean, a carved riverbed in the Kulen Hills. A twenty minute walk up a jungle path brings us to the ‘River of a Thousand Lingas’, as Kbal Spean is often referred to in Enlish. The thousands of lingams (phallic symbols) in the riverbed symbolise the creative powers of Vishnu and were believed by the Khmers to lend the river water magical power. The area is also dotted with numerous detailed carvings of Hindu deities. Back at the foot of the hill, we continue by car to Banteay Srei. Compared to other structures, this Hindu temple almost seems petite, but is magnificently decorated with countless elaborate carvings which are the finest found in Cambodia. The name translates as “Citadel of the Women”, due to its intricate decoration. On the way back to Siem Reap we make a detour to the less frequently visited Banteay Samre. Built by King King Suryavarman II, the same king who built Angkor Wat, the structure with its high temple tower has undergone extensive restoration.
Day 7: This morning we visit the Roluos Group, a collection of temples representing the remains of Hariharalaya, which was the first capital of the Angkor era Khmer empire. We start with Lolei, an island temple in the middle of a barai (reservoir), which is now dry. The complex also houses an active pagoda with resident monks who are happy to welcome visitors. We continue to Preah Koh, which translates as “sacred bull”, deriving its name from the bull statues placed in front of the central towers. The temple features some of the best preserved plasterwork. Finally we visit Bakong, the largest and most impressive temple of the Roluos group. Constructed by King Indravarman l as his state temple, Bakong is one of the first representations of the temple-mountain concept and represents Mt Meru.
In the afternoon we visit Neak Pean, a small island temple situated in the middle of an artificial pool which translates as “intertwined serpents” due to the coiled serpents encircling the base of the structure. We then continue on to Preah Khan or “sacred sword”, an atmospheric monastic complex which features elaborate carvings.
Day 8: Time free at leisure until your check out and transfer or the beginning of your onward programme.
The above tours are therefore sample itineraries.
Cambodia’s bustling capital is situated at the confluence of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap rivers. Legend has it that Phnom Penh was founded when a woman by the name of Penh found Buddha images washed up on the bank of the Mekong River. In 1373, a temple, Wat Phnom, was built on a hill to house them. With Phnom in Khmer meaning hill, Phnom Penh literally translates as Hill of Penh. Officially the city was founded in 1434 by King Ponhea Yat, following the fall of Angkor.
Today, Phnom Penh is a city of more than 1.5 million people. With continuing urban development it is fast developing into an economic hub of the region, at the same time retaining its distinct atmosphere with its wide tree-lined boulevards, French colonial buildings and an abundance of chic bistros dotted along the riverfront, bustling markets, intriguing boutiques and stylish hotels.
Places of interest include the royal palace including the Silver Pagoda with its spectacular floor made up of 5,000 silver tiles, the National Museum housing treasures from the world’s finest collection of sculptures from the Angkor period, Wat Phnom, the city’s landmark and the notorious Toul Sleng Genocide Museum.
Phnom Penh is also ideal gateway for daytrips to the surrounding countryside. Particularly attractive are boat trips on the Mekong and Tonle Sap combined with a visit to the picturesque Silk Island or a visit of Udong, once the Capital of Cambodia, and the floating villages of Kampong Chhnang.
Gateway to Preah Vihear
Situated midway between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap on the river Stung Sen, Kampong Thom is a relatively new tourist destination, serving primarily as a base for further excursions to the temple of Preah Vihear and Sambor Prei Kuk, the capital of Chenla during the 7th century.
Other attractions include Phnom Santuk, a sacred hill affording spectacular views over the surrounding countryside and Santuk Silk Farm, which offers guided tours on silk production.
The area around the provincial capital of Siem Reap is dotted with dozens of temple complexes, most of them situated in the Angkor Archaeological Park to the North of the town.
Among the countless treasures first-time visitors should at least include Angkor Wat, believed to be the world’s largest religious building, the Bayon with its mysterious face towers and the complexes of Agnkor Thom, a walled fortress which was once the centre world’s largest city.
On the way to and back from these complexes visits of other temples are easily possible, above all of Ta Prohm which has been left to the forces of nature by archaeologists, many parts of its structure being embraced by the roots of gigantic trees.
At least two days are required for a relatively detailed exploration of Angkor Archaeological Park which can be reached conveniently by car, tuk tuk or bicycle. The area is too large to be explored on foot.
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